Reason for a New Age

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    What you will expect to see here are discussions of politics and tangentially economics. This blog will do its best to present a rational look at the world of today, how the modern world came into place, and the issues that are currently being discussed in the public realm.
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Food & Diet – Part 2

Posted by publius2point0 on 2014/03/26

The colonialist systems that took over India and Southeast Asia during the 17th and 18th centuries were largely focused on securing sources of spice and tea. That is to say, Asia was invaded and its people subjugated for the sake of cinnamon.

There’s a recent belief that sugar is addictive, but based on the simple fact above, I think it’s safe to say that anything delicious is, effectively, addictive. Once someone who has lived on the British diet has tasted a curry, there is simply no going back. Really, anything that our bodies consider to be joyful, delicious, or beautiful is likely to fall in the same class. “Joy” is, after all, the release of dopamine in the brain, which is the same thing that most drugs (cannabis, cocaine, nicotine, etc.) cause the brain to produce. We’re built to obey dopamine.

As someone who never started drinking, I have a somewhat unique perspective on addiction. For instance, some months ago I went on a couple of dates with a woman. Each date seemed successful – we got along, laughed at each other’s jokes, etc. – but on the last one, she had been out drinking the night before and was still reeling from it a little bit. The next time I asked her out, she declined and told me it wasn’t going to work. I have no idea why, but when you look at profile after profile on dating sites where each person comments that they like to “curl up with a glass of wine”, you can’t help but suspect that the idea of not being able to enjoy a drink with someone, ever, turns a lot of people away. And that makes sense, until you think of it from my perspective, where a majority of women are basing their decision on the fitness of their partner for supporting a family, raising children, etc. on whether he drinks a particular fashion of grape juice.

People are impressed when a heroine addict robs a store, but as pointed out above, the conquest of the Asias is almost certainly the biggest indication of the sheer force of power that addiction has on the people under its sway.

So what does this have to do with food?

Well the very definition of “progress” in reference to technology, government, economics, etc. is the attempt to develop things which are more pleasing for the people of Earth than what we had yesterday. Some company out there is dumping major money into figuring out how to make clothes which dry themselves, how to help the elderly to be able to run up and down stairs, and Kraft is spending millions to reverse engineer your taste buds.

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese might seem like cheap crap, but in a sense it’s also the food equivalent of the iPhone. Some megacorp figured out how to create something that can be mass-produced, sold for a reasonable price, and oohs & ahs your senses so you keep coming back to buy more. We’re just less impressed with it because all of the science and technology behind it is in a laboratory or factory somewhere far away, rather than sitting in our hands. But make no mistake, leaving the “artists” who populate high-end restaurants aside, most of the food industry in any modern nation is geared around finding things which your body says is delicious, not nutritious. (Technically, there are also considerations made for transportability, price, and color, but the point remains that nutrition is generally not the first priority.)

I’m not the first person to notice this, and hence the start of things like the paleo diet, where people try to eat a diet similar to our ancestors, before science got its hands on our food, with the hope of having a more nutritious diet.

Personally, I’m suspicious of the potential success of something like this, or really any diet beyond the one I suggested in my previous post. Like I have often pointed out when talking about Climate Change (though apparently, not in my official discussion of the topic) I don’t think the majority of people are willing to go back on progress. Particularly, if you have reason to believe that something is addictive, I really don’t see people forgoing it. Indeed, my brother has commented that if you look at what paleo dieters eat, they coat everything in honey, dried dates, add other fruits, or otherwise sweeten their foods – which is almost certainly not the flavor profile of what most neanderthals ate. Just eating a modern-day fruit is likely to be a significantly different experience from what people ate 10,000 years ago. People have been practicing selective and cross-breeding for millenia to produce delicious food, not nutritious, and I suspect that fruit have been the largest recipient of this sort of interference.

For whatever reason, there does seem to be a fairly strong link between “good for you” and tastelessness, bitterness, and grittiness. The last one makes sense. Fiber is a technical term for things like fruit skin, nut shells, and other bits of a plant that are hard, so anything which hasn’t been processed much, to remove fiber, is going to have lots of small, hard bits. And of course, a lot of traditional diets consisted of insects, with their crunchy outsides, and all of the parts of an animal – not just the muscle. And of course, while fiber is good for you, it’s not really nutritious, nor are insect shells or cartilage. For the most part, they are just waste product, and since your body is going to ignore them, perhaps so does your tongue?

But oddly, actual vitamins tend to not be all the tasty – hence why parents have to force their kids to “eat their greens” – which seems counter-intuitive to the evolution of the human race. My only thought is that vitamins are generally easy enough to come buy in nature that, while we developed taste receptors for them, evolution really only favored the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, salt, etc.) since those require more effort to track down and secure. (Obviously, people can learn to enjoy their greens, given time and sufficient prodding.)

Overall, nutrition seems to runs counter to deliciousness, but if we’re addicted to all of the delicious things that we’ve developed over the millenia, then doesn’t that mean that we’re in an unfixable situation?

Well no. While I said in the previous article that you should try and verify that you’re eating a wide enough variety of foods to meet all your nutritional needs, and consider modifying your diet based on that, my only objection to buying and taking vitamin pills is that they’re expensive. There might be some vegetable out there that you’ll discover that you like, which gives you the same benefit, while also being delicious and cheaper. (And there’s also hypervitaminosis which is an indicator that if you’re meeting your nutrient requirements, taking EVEN MORE NUTRITION in the form of vitamin pills is unlikely to be helping you in any way.) Certainly, you’re free to eat loads of kale, liver, sardines, etc. if it makes you feel good about yourself, but really you’re not gaining anything over eating some Mac & Cheese and popping a few vitamins. The primary question is which you can sustain and enjoy for the rest of your life?

The greater worry is that an all-macronutrient diet may not be good for us.

Our bodies may be rewarding us for eating lots of sugar, salt, and protein but – similar to hypervitaminosis – there’s almost certainly a point at which too much is too much. With sugar, in particular, just comparing how often animals need to brush their teeth to prevent cavities versus how often we do, is a pretty good indicator that the levels we intake is not something that our bodies were built to handle. (Besides living alcohol-free, I’ve also had the chance to live in a country that had a modern diet introduced in the last ~50 years, and seen what effect that had on the teeth of its unprepared inhabitants. Rotted out and green teeth remain horrifying no matter how many time you see them.)

It may be true that it’s progress that got us into the situation we have today, and that until modern-day “progress” meant making life more pleasant, that doesn’t mean that it can’t start making lives longer and healthier as well. We’ve already started to invent sugar substitutes, and there’s nothing to say that we can’t invent salt substitutes or figure out ways to infuse tasty foods with more nutrients. While I realize that many people are tech-phobic and worried about unnatural, processed, artificial products and the effects they have on the human body, that doesn’t mean that natural products are good for you either. Sugar will kill you. Aspartame probably isn’t the healthiest thing you could eat, but it may well be the lesser of two evils and between the option of foregoing sweet or switching to Sweet & Low, the latter might be all that the majority of you will be able to maintain.

I’ll discuss the safeties and dangers of artificial and GMO foods in my next blog, but let me reiterate a point that I think a lot of people talking about diet also make: Eating healthy is a life decision. It’s something that you do every day, for the rest of your life, not just for the few weeks leading up to a trip to the beach. Whatever path you decide to take, to make sure that you’re eating healthy, it needs to be something that you can hold to (more or less) every day, for the next 40-60 years. The point that they don’t make, which I do, is that sacrifice has nothing to do with any of this.

As a society, we’ve voted for the establishment of public shelter, food stamps, libraries, etc. to make sure that everyone has access to food, shelter, education, and entertainment. Yet, even knowing that any money we give a beggar will be spent on getting drunk or high, we still feel a need to give them money. Even though we know that replacing our light bulbs with LEDs will save the environment faster than buying a Prius, we still focus more attention on the automobile market. As an individual, I want to feel good about myself. Sure, I may have voted for food stamps, but only I know that and there’s only so good that you can feel about yourself when everything good you have done is kept private. But at the same time, boasting doesn’t look good either. Buying a Prius or giving money to a beggar are ways that you can show off your goodness, without boasting. And invariably, that means sacrificing something (money, a better driving experience, etc.).

So you can walk into a store and buy Organic, Locally Grown produce in full sight of everyone else in the market, or you can buy a Mac & Cheese and vitamin D pills. In today’s society, the latter isn’t going to get you any knowing nods. By all means, feel free to eat organic, local, paleo foods. I’m not saying that, that’s bad, that there’s no benefit to doing so, nor that your intentions are misguided. My point is that if you can’t afford organic, you can’t cut the sugar, or you just really don’t like anything green, you shouldn’t feel like a bad person because you eat at McDonalds and buy Kraft. It may (or may not) be better for the world to eat local, but that has nothing to do with eating healthy. Eat healthy first. Eat in a way that makes you feel good about yourself second.


One Response to “Food & Diet – Part 2”

  1. Roberta said

    Interesting discussion. I didn’t receive Part 1.

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